Figures released by the City of London Corporation show over a fifth of Hampstead Heath’s budget is being spent on running swimming facilities as visitor numbers soar.
The statistics were revealed after the City Corporation launched a review of the Heath’s three Bathing Ponds and Lido, to ensure the safety of users and sustainability of the ponds.
Heath managers want to ensure its swimming facilities can meet growing demand, following advice from the Health and Safety Executive to have more lifeguards.
Since 2010/11 the number of annual visits to the three Bathing Ponds have increased from 296,000 to over 655,000, meaning running costs have risen.
Last year the City Corporation spent £1,267,000 operating the Lido and three Bathing Ponds.
£747,000 of this was spent running the swimming ponds alone, but income from ticket sales, season tickets and donations there only totalled £67,000. The authority estimates that only 3.7% of Bathing Pond users pay the charge, which was introduced in 2005.
Heath managers want to make sure they are ready for the upcoming summer season after a record number of visitors last year.
They are speaking with swimmers about how they can continue to have a safe and enjoyable experience. The consultation also covers lifeguarding provision and the charging arrangements for the Bathing Ponds.
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Following discussions, proposals will be developed and considered at the Heath’s Consultative Committee, before a decision is made by the Hampstead Heath Management Committee in March 2020.
The Heath’s bathing ponds were originally created in the 17th and 18th centuries as reservoirs to meet London’s growing demand for drinking water.
Over time, some were repurposed for public swimming. They include the Mixed Bathing Pond, Highgate Men’s Bathing Pond and Kenwood Ladies’ Bathing Pond.
Karina Dostalova, chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Hampstead Heath management committee, said: “The Heath’s swimming facilities are becoming more popular every year.
“They are a prime space for Londoners to get outside and take time out from their busy lives.
“To be able to keep it this way, we want to make sure that we have the right resources in place for visitors to safely enjoy all the Heath has to offer.
“We have already had some really helpful and informative engagement with the review and welcome all the comments the public has made.”
Hampstead Heath is one of London’s most popular open spaces, situated just six kilometres from Trafalgar Square and receives over nine million visits a year.
The City of London Corporation, which is a major green spaces provider in the capital, has owned and managed the site since 1989.
Hampstead Heath is a registered charity, receiving over £5m of funding from the City Corporation every year, along with revenue generated though services, various grants and donations.
The City Corporation protects and conserves 11,000 acres of green space in London and south east England – including Epping Forest and Burnham Beeches – and over 200 smaller ones in the Square Mile.
They are funded by over £29 million a year from the City Corporation and include important wildlife habitats, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and National Nature Reserves. They are protected from being built on by special legislation.